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Federal Courts Advised to Check Attorneys' Credentials
Federal courts nationwide are being advised to do more to make sure the people who seek permission to represent clients in them are truly licensed lawyers.
The Judicial Conference approved a policy at its March 17 meeting requiring all courts to adopt two safeguards for verifying the status of attorneys seeking to be admitted to the court:
- An admission form that gathers sufficient information to allow the court to verify an applicant’s state bar admission status.
- A procedure for verifying that the information on the forms is correct.
The need for such safeguards arose when, over the last four years, a convicted felon who never had been licensed to practice law served as an attorney in 16 cases in 10 different federal courts. He took advantage of a traditionally collegial process in which federal courts allow a lawyer to handle a case pro hoc vice (for this occasion) as long as he or she is sponsored by a practicing attorney in that court’s judicial district.
The pretender gained a reputation as an expert in criminal law, which resulted in attorneys who did not know him personally vouching for him when he applied for pro hoc vice admission.
In recommending the new policy, the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management report stated, “There would be a minimal burden on court staff to require… a verification procedure as many state bars have web sites which contain the admission status of licensed attorneys.”
The report added: “If a court has difficulty in ascertaining bar admission information, it could place the onus of proof of bar admission on the applying attorney. The small amount of time and effort that would be required for the court to perform this function clearly outweighs… the damage done to the integrity of the judicial process.”